The Best Space Heaters
Space heaters are a great way to give your home’s main heating system a little extra help, and most people will be very happy with one (or both) of the two best models we’ve found for small and large rooms. Both of these heaters were our picks when this guide was published last winter. They’ve proven they’re still the best after an additional 60 hours of research, comparisons to almost 100 other heaters, and a feature-to-feature battle against 37 competitors in hardware tests performed by Ph.D. physicist Dr. Jim Shapiro (including hands-on tests against eight new heaters this fall).
If you need to quickly warm up small spaces, like a modest 10 ft. by 11 ft. bedroom or office, nothing can beat the $25 Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater’s low price, compact size, light 3-pound weight, rapid performance, simple ease of use, and great warranty (though it is a bit noisy thanks to its fan). Of everything we tested, the Lasko 754200 heated our test areas the fastest. It’s roughly the same size as a loaf of bread, so it’ll easily travel between rooms and fit most anywhere you’d care to use it.
For a larger space like a master bedroom or living room you plan to heat for hours at a time, you should get Delonghi’s $90 TRD0715T Safeheat 1500 W—it’s a 14.5 by 6.3 by 25.2-inch radiator-style unit that efficiently, silently, and steadily puts out plenty of heat, and it can maintain a set temperature on a schedule with a built-in thermostat and timer.
Nothing else that we’ve looked at over the past three years has been able to match the reliability of its mechanical timer, the amount of heat it can silently generate, or the way it continues to produce heat for a full hour after it’s been turned off. The catch? It’s slow to heat up, weighs a hefty 24 pounds, and it gets pretty hot to the touch.
These picks are so good that they routinely sell out each winter. Good thing we have a couple of runner-up options if you can’t find our picks once the cold weather hits.
If you can’t get the Lasko, we suggest the $130 Vornado ATH1 Whole Room Tower Heater. In our heating test, it heated a room nearly as quickly as our top pick, the Lasko. It’s much more expensive, but that nets you extra features like a 9-hour timer, touch sensitive controls, and a 5-year warranty.
And should our favorite large-room pick prove impossible to find, we suggest taking a look at the $80 Delonghi EW7507EB Radiator. It performed identically to the TRD0715T Safeheat 1500 W in our heating tests, but as it has a digital timer and controls, you’ll have reset it every time you unplug it or the power goes out.
Finally, if you’re looking for something that combines the rapid heating of ceramic heater with the thermal mass of a radiator, you might want to consider the $80 DeLonghi HMP1500. It’s a 10-pound, 14 by 3 by 19-inch device that uses a micathermic panel to quickly heat up the area around it like our small room pick does, but has no fan so it runs silent like our favorite radiator. But it can’t heat a room up room as quickly as the Lasko 754200 can and doesn’t hold onto heat like an oil-filled radiator does once it’s been switched off. It’s a device that’s not necessarily better than our Lasko or Delonghi picks—it just splits the difference.
Table of Contents
- Choosing the right size for your room
- The best heater for small rooms
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- The runner-up for small rooms
- The best heater for large rooms
- The flaws in the large room’s pick
- The runner-up for large rooms
- A compact hybrid radiator alternative
- How we picked and tested
- Radiant/infrared heaters
- Convection heaters
- Other key features
- New models we considered
- Our test
- The new competition
- Heaters we dismissed in the past
- Notes on heater prices and availability
- A word on safety
- Wrapping it up
Choosing the right size for your room
When buying a heater, it’s important to consider the size of space you’re using it in. According to our research, you’ll need between 10 and 15 watts of power per square foot (which varies based on how well-insulated the room is and whether or not there are windows or doors). So, a 100-square-foot bedroom, for example, requires at least a 1,000-watt heater to keep things toasty.
Generally, the most powerful heater you can plug into a standard North American outlet maxes out at 1,500 watts. As the only heat source, it would only be suitable for heating a meager 150 square feet. But as we outline in the safety section of this guide, space heaters are designed to be used as a supplemental heat source, not a primary one. So even with this 1,500-watt limitation, there’s no reason reason why a good space heater won’t be able to raise the temperature in the area around it by a few degrees.
The best heater for small rooms
If you want to quickly heat an office or a small bedroom—or want a compact heater that can easily travel between them—the $25 Lasko 754200 is your best option. Despite its small size, it was the most powerful heater in the test. The ceramic plate heater’s fan-driven warmth raised our 11 by 13-foot test area’s temperature more in an hour than any other heater we tested. It also generated more heat in 20 minutes than anything else we tested, raising the testing room’s temperature by 7.4 degrees Fahrenheit (most of the competition averaged about 5 degrees in the same period).
This space heater is incredibly easy to use. Two analog dials are built into the top of the heater. The first one lets you choose the power level: high heat or low heat. The second control knob dials in temperature control with 10 different settings. These aren’t labeled, but our tests showed they ranged from roughly 70 to 75 degrees F. (There’s also a setting for use as a fan).
For a space heater, it’s pretty safe. After running it for 80 minutes straight, the temperature of the heater’s outer casing topped off at 133 degrees Fahrenheit— one of the lowest surface operating temperatures of any of the hardware we looked at. (In context, one heater’s surface measured as low as 113; others went well over 200 degrees.) The reasonable surface temperature minimizes risks to kids and pets. This also makes it easy to turn off, unplug, and relocate, which most people could do one-handed with its molded-plastic carrying handle.
For added safety, the 754200 comes equipped with an overheat switch that will automatically turn it off if it starts to run at dangerously high temperatures, which can happen if it’s being blocked by a piece of furniture, a curtain, or the floor (if it was knocked over by a child or pet while operating).
It’s pretty easy to fit the heater into compact spaces as well. Measuring 6 by 7 by 9.2 inches (about the size of a big loaf of bread) and weighing a little more than 3 pounds, the Lasko can easily fit into a nook in an office or a corner by a breakfast table. It comes equipped with a 6-foot power cord, which should be enough length for a small to mid-sized room without using an extension cord.
Electrically, it was one of the least expensive heaters we looked at, with a monthly energy cost of $33. That sounds steep, but that’s measured as if it were running 8 hours a day for 30 days straight—we wanted to provide a maximum possible operating expense and let readers adjust to calculate their own probable usage costs. Use it for only an hour every day for a month, and it’s more like $4.13.
Lasko backs its hardware with a 3-year limited warranty, which is pretty nice coverage for $25. It’s better than most other companies’ warranties, with the exception of Vornado, which typically offers 5 years of coverage.
Aside from that reassurance, there aren’t many trusted editorial reviews (beyond this one). But literally thousands of customers like the Lasko 754200 on Amazon. It’s the most popular space heater on the site, with a 4.1-star average review from 3,397 shoppers, 1,937 of which awarded the heater five stars. Home Depot shoppers gave the 754200 4.4 out of five stars, and 91% of those who bought it there that were polled would recommend it to others. Similar levels of satisfaction could be found at Best Buy and Walmart.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Like all fan-driven heaters, it’s a little loud. We measured 44 decibels of sound from a distance of six feet away (roughly the same sound level as a refrigerator when its compressor runs). This noise level was about average for all of the fan-forced heaters we tested. The Dyson AM05, for example, produces 48 decibels of noise while running. By comparison, this decibel chart states that the decibel level of an average conversation is about 60 decibels.
Next problem: It has an overheat sensor, but there’s no tip-over switch to ensure that the heater turns off if it’s knocked over. Tipped-over heaters tend to overheat, which could be a dangerous situation—then again, you should never leave a space heater on and unattended, especially with pets or young children around.
It’s also worth nothing that the 754200 only offers heating levels on its analog controls. There’s no true temperature control, but that’s not such a big deal. When you’re cold, turn it up; when you’re hot, turn it down. There’s no timer either, but remember, this thing only costs 25 bucks. You can always add a separate timer so that you could, for example, warm up the kitchen in advance on a winter morning, with a cheap model on Amazon (we like this one).
Finally, the Lasko 754200 doesn’t hold on to the heat it produces once it has been turned off due to the fact that it has a relatively small thermal mass. But that’s a problem you’ll find with any ceramic plate heater, so it’s hard to fault it for that.
The runner-up for small rooms
In previous years, we’ve found that the $25 Lasko 754200 can become unavailable once the weather turns cold. If that happens, or if you really want a heater with a built-in timer, get the $130 Vornado ATH1 Whole Room Tower Heater.
Yes, it’s a lot more money than our main pick for small rooms—the Lasko is a much better deal. However, the two heaters were roughly equivalent in our 20-minute heating test—this Vornado raised the temperature by 7.2 degrees, compared to 7.4 for the Lasko.
But you do get a few additional features for your extra $105. The Vornado beat the Lasko on the maximum surface temperature test, as it stayed cooler by 25 degrees after 80 minutes cranking heat. It comes with easy-to-use, touch-sensitive controls and a fan that adjusts automatically to go faster or slower depending on the heating needs of the area in which it’s deployed. So it’s not always blowing as hard as it can, which is nice. It also comes with a 5-year warranty—two more years than the Lasko. And the Vornado’s best distinguishing feature is a 9-hour digital timer (but you have to reset that if the unit is unplugged).
With these bells and whistles, it would be a serious contender for our top position as the best heater for small areas—but the $105 price difference is too much more to pay for these added features. It would almost be considered an upgrade if it provided significantly more heat or provided it faster than the Lasko could. But with roughly the same results on temperature to heating time, we consider it more on-par with the Lasko than an upgrade, hence the “runner-up” title.
Plus, it has a larger footprint than the Lasko, it weighs 2 pounds more, and it only managed a 3.3-star average on Amazon. Add it up and it’s easy to see why we this is a runner-up and not the first choice.
The best heater for large rooms
The best heater for a larger area is the $90 DeLonghi TRD0715T Safeheat 1,500 W Portable Oil-Filled Radiator. It’s efficient, it’s nearly silent, it comes with a foolproof built-in timer, and it cranks out plenty of heat and stays warm even once it’s turned off. This was our pick for best portable heater for larger spaces for the past 2 years, and it makes the grade again this time around after going up against nine different heaters.
Like all oil-filled radiators, it doesn’t give you instant heat. After 20 minutes, the DeLonghi was only capable of raising the temperature of our test area by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit (the Lasko 754200 heated it by 7.4 degrees in 20 minutes). But after 2 hours of operation, the Delonghi heated the larger of our two test areas to 75.8 degrees Fahrenheit—that’s 1.8 degrees more than the Lasko heater could manage in the same period.
In fact, after running for 2 hours, this raised the test area’s temperature more than any other heater we tested. Plus, all that oil gives it a large enough thermal mass to keep putting out heat for roughly an hour after the hardware turns off.
The Safeheat has a basic thermostat that’s controlled by a slider, which can efficiently use that thermal mass to maintain a set temperature as the machine cycles on and off. It’s not as precise a temperature control as a digital system, but it gets the job done. The Delonghi kept our test area pretty consistent, with a temperature variance of less than 4 degrees over a 1-hour period. A number of the ceramic heaters we tested could match this feat—but to do it, they had to run regularly, with their fans kicking up a bunch of noise. This fan-free machine does it in silence, save for the occasional ping of its metal fins expanding or contracting.
The Safeheat’s 24-hour analog timer switch is another nice feature, especially if you want to take the morning chill out of your bedroom or keep the frost out of your pipes in the basement. Just schedule the radiator to turn on or off when it best suits you. There are other machines that have a more modern digital timer, but we prefer this one’s analog version—it ensures you don’t have to reset the thing every time you unplug the heater.
The Safeheat TRD0715T is cheap to operate as well. When used for supplemental heating, it’ll cost you about $35 a month to run, if you have run it 8 hours a day for 30 days, or just over $4 if you use it for an hour a day. That’s not the lowest operating cost of the heaters we tested this year—the Lasko 754200 and Vornado ATH1, for example, cost about $33 and $27 per month respectively—but it’s still a very reasonable way to add some additional warmth to your home.
There aren’t any editorial reviews for the Safeheat, more a result of its obscurity rather than any lack of value. But on Amazon, reviews for the Safeheat were overwhelmingly positive. The hardware earned a four-star average from 698 people (with more than half of those providing it with a five-star rating.) Also, after I submitted my results, Wirecutter founder Brian Lam told me that he owns a Safeheat and doesn’t have any complaints about it to share. He’s smart and picky, so I’d call that a good sign that you’ll like it too.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
As quiet and efficient as the Safeheat is, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. For starters, its surface gets pretty hot. After running it on its highest setting for 80 minutes, Jim found that the Safeheat’s maximum surface temperature hit 225 degrees Fahrenheit, which was the highest surface temperature we encountered in our testing this year. The only thing that would run hotter is a radiant/infrared heater, and we don’t recommend those.
Next, it’s pretty bulky. As it weighs 24 pounds and takes up 9.1 by 13.8 by 25.2 inches of space, calling the Safeheat a ‘portable’ heater is hard to do with a straight face. It can be rolled around on caster wheels, so its heft shouldn’t be an issue as long as you don’t need to haul it up or down a flight of stairs on a regular basis. And when you’ve got the heater where you want it, the wheels can be tucked away.
Jim also identified one more minor issue that’s kind of a bummer: To be able to use the Delonghi at all, it’s necessary set its timer first—even if it’s only to turn off for, say, 5 minutes or turn on when you wake up in the morning. But even with the timer set and the heater left on, it won’t run constantly. It’ll turn itself on and off throughout the day to maintain your desired temperature.
Some people might have an issue with the fact that for the first few times that you use it, the Safeheat emits a foul odor. But most other oil-filled radiators do as well. This is because some of the radiator’s oil is left on the surface of the heater after manufacturing. Once the oil has been burned off, the smell disappears. Just use it in the garage a couple of times before you bring it inside.
Finally, you should know Consumer Reports gave the Safeheat a lousy mark of 39 out of 100 when they reviewed it a few years back, but I don’t think that their assessment of the hardware was fair. The CR test criteria looked at how much the hardware could heat a room in 15 minutes and how well it could heat an individual sitting next to it within the same time frame.
In comparison to ceramic heaters, which are designed to push out a massive amount of heat in a short amount of time, an oil-filled radiator is always going to come up short. 15 minutes is scarcely enough time for a heater like the TRD0715T to get up to temperature, let alone heat a room. Given how much we typically respect Consumer Report’s review and testing protocols, we were puzzled by why they’d have tested the hardware this way.
The runner-up for large rooms
If our Delonghi radiator pick above is unavailable, get the $80 Delonghi EW7507EB Radiator. Both radiators performed identically in our 20-minute and 2-hour heat tests. But in looking at the weight of this competing radiator, it would appear that our large room pick, the TRD0715T Safeheat, sized at 14.5 by 6.3 by 25.2 inches, is about a pound heavier.
The Safeheat also has a slightly larger thermal core, meaning it would hold on to heat for longer after the power’s been cut. An hour after the power had been cut to both heaters, the surface temperature of the TRD0715T measured 81°F, while the EW7507EB read as 77°F. But, hey, this runner-up is a little bit cheaper for almost the same performance otherwise.
Here’s one big difference: Our pick’s analog controls give it a significant advantage over the EW7507EB. The EW7507EB has a digital control system, but no internal battery. So every time you unplug it to move it to another location, or the power kicks out in your home, it will have to be reprogrammed. Not cool. But despite that, if you can’t get your hands on a Delonghi TRD0715T Safeheat, the nearly identical price and performance make this a good choice as a plan B.
A compact hybrid radiator alternative
The $80 DeLonghi HMP1500 came close to being our top pick—it has more thermal mass than a typical ceramic plate heater, but it heats up faster than an average oil-filled radiator. This is due to its micathermic heating element1, which combines the best of both technologies—but it’s a compromise solution, and we don’t feel it’s as good our picks are at doing what they do best.
If you like the idea of an oil-filled radiator’s slow, steady heat, but you know you need to move the thing around a lot, this could be the right one for you. It only weighs 10 pounds (4.58 kg) compared to the 25 pounds of our larger-room pick. It also heats up more quickly, raising the test area temperature 5.12 Fahrenheit in the space of an hour—roughly 27 percent warmer than the Safeheat could manage. This light weight and speed has a drawback compared to the Safeheat, though—it won’t hold heat nearly as well as the bigger pick will.
Compared to the Lasko, our pick for smaller spaces, this is roughly three times the weight and much less compact—it’s a 2 by 2-foot panel, whereas the Lasko is a small lump that never exceeds 1 foot on any side.
Considering all these details, it’s not so much a device that’s better than our Lasko or Delonghi picks—it just splits the difference.
How we picked and tested
Space heaters can usually be slotted into two2 basic categories: radiant heaters and convection heaters. Both of our main picks fall into the second category, and a quick explanation of the difference in the technologies makes it pretty clear why that is.
There are two major technologies in radiant-style heaters: wire element and quartz. We don’t think either are right for most people’s homes.
Wire element heaters are what most people think of when someone says space heater. They operate the same way that household toasters do: You plug the heater into the wall, turn it on, and just a little too much electricity is sent coursing through an array of high-resistance wires. These wires almost instantly start to glow red-hot and heat up to temperatures as high as 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Yes, that’s dangerous.) The heat is directed outwards from the wires with the help of a reflective backing or a fan warming up a small chunk of space around the heater.
Quartz element heaters are a little safer than wire element heaters. They sheath the heater’s wire element inside of a quartz tube. This quartz sheath also insulates the wire, making the heater more efficient and allowing it to heat up faster without using as much electricity as an unsheathed wire element does. As with wire element heaters, you get a boatload of radiant heat that can be pushed around the room by a fan. It works fast, but the heat dissipates quickly after they’ve been shut off.
The better choice for most people is a modern convection heater—these are safer, more efficient, and they perform better while operating at lower temperatures.
There are two main types of convection heater: ceramic plate heaters and oil-filled radiators. Both can be great—safe, satisfying, and plenty warm—but the one you need depends on what you want to use it for.
Ceramic plate heaters, perfect for quickly heating up a small space, are the wire element heater’s sane, younger brother. One of our picks, the Lasko 754200, is in this category. They’re small, they’re fast, and they use a fan to push warm air away from their elements. But here’s the big difference: With a much lower surface temperature—in fact, the lowest surface temperature you’ll find on most space heaters on the market—they’re far safer than older radiant machines. This is because the heating element is encased in (you guessed it) ceramic plates. Unfortunately, also like a radiant heater, they don’t hold on to their heat for too long after they’re turned off. And the fan can be noisy.
Oil-filled radiators, with a large thermal core that holds heat even after the unit turns off, are the choice for slowly and silently heating a large space. Our other pick, the DeLonghi TRD0715T Safeheat, is in this category. These work like a hot water or steam radiator—except instead of drawing heated fluid from a boiler, they use an electrical heating element to warm up oil stored in the heater’s fins. Cooler air enters through the bottom, passes over the heated fins, and flows outward from the top and into the room, creating a circulating loop of heat. These don’t use a fan, so operation is practically silent, making them a good choice for use while you’re watching TV or in a bedroom at night. The drawbacks: Relative to ceramic plate heaters, they tend to be bigger, heavier, and slower to heat up a room. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, an oil-filled radiator is a sealed system, so you’ll never have to top it off.
Beyond just finding a heater that works well and isn’t dangerous, here are more features most people would want:
- Extra safety features: At a minimum, look for a heat sensor that shuts the heater down if it becomes dangerously hot. A tip-over switch, which turns off a heater that’s fallen on its side, is a good additional feature you’ll find on some products.
- Portability: If the hardware’s too heavy to easily lift, it should have built-in wheels so you don’t break your back taking it from room to room. And if it’s small and light enough to carry around your home, it should have a handle that remains cool to the touch even if the heater’s been recently used.
- Heat settings and timers: A heater should be able to adjust the amount of heat it’s putting out, ideally with a somewhat-accurate built-in thermostat. And a timer, which you program so it can turn on or shut off at a set time, is also nice.
- Low noise: The hardware you pick should be as quiet as possible. No one wants to listen to a heater blasting away while they watch a movie or try to sleep.
- Oscillation: If you decide to buy a fan-forced ceramic heater, having the option to oscillate the device from side to side allows the heater to spread its heat to a larger area than a stationary fan can manage.
- Cord storage: Space heaters should be easy to store when they’re not needed. Many have built-in cord management systems.
New models we considered
This is the third year we’ve tested and recommended space heaters. It’s not a category that changes much from year to year. To find what new (and old) hardware would be available this winter, I looked to some of the most popular online sites for home hardware—Amazon, Home Depot, Walmart, Target, Lowe’s, and Costco.
Not too surprisingly, I found that most of what we’ve tested in the past is still being sold. That said, I did manage to find a few new pieces of hardware that were either new or passed over in a previous version of the guide due to space considerations.
Between what I found from my own scouting and the latest info from Good Housekeeping and Consumer Reports, I came up with a list of 19 top-rated new heaters to add to our existing list, which totals more than 60 different heaters. The manufacturers we’ve considered include Honeywell, Optimus, Sunbeam, Dyson, DeLonghi, Crane, Holmes, Lasko, Fusion, Royal Sovereign, Twin Star, Infralife, Impress, Vornado, Bionaire, Solarus, and Sunpentown.
Some key criteria helped us narrowed down this lot of 19 pieces of gear. Anything that didn’t offer basic safety features was nixed. Anything without an ETL, CSA, UL, or ULC certification? Gone. Any hardware that had poor user reviews (or no user reviews) was cut, as was anything that we saw online or in a store but couldn’t find listed on the manufacturer’s website.
In the end, including our two category leaders from last year, I wound up with three different oil-filled radiators (listed first) and seven fan-forced ceramic plate heaters:
- DeLonghi TRD0715T Safeheat
- DeLonghi EW7507EB Oil Filled Radiator
- DeLonghi EW7707CB Safeheat
- Lasko 754200 Ceramic Heater with Adjustable Thermostat
- Impress 1500-Watt Space Heater
- Lasko Products 5409 Oscillating Ceramic Tabletop/Floor Heater
- Lasko 751320 Ceramic Tower Heater with Remote Control
- Lasko 5624 Low Profile Silent Room Heater
- Vornado ATH1 Whole Room Tower Heater
- Dyson’s AM05 Hot + Cool Fan Heater
To keep our test results rigorously scientific and accurate, I asked Dr. Jim Shapiro to test our heater picks as he has in years past. Jim has a physics degree from MIT, as well as a Masters of Science and a Ph.D. in mathematical physics from UCLA. He has taught geophysics at Texas A&M University, worked in the petroleum industry as a geophysicist, and has authored a pair of books: one on the inner workings of everyday hardware and a second called In Your Head that explores mental calculations done without a pencil and paper or the aid of a computer. Jim is a far smarter man than I’ll ever be, and he’s the perfect choice to handle the data-intensive testing required to measure a heater’s performance in a controlled environment.
Jim tested each of the 10 pieces of hardware in an incredibly rigorous series of tests outlined below. We used two rooms in Jim’s home as a test space: The first was a bedroom measuring 11 by 13 feet in size. It has two outside walls with a (double-pane) window covered by an insulated shade in each wall. The second room measured 15 by 15 feet and has two outside walls: one with two windows and the other wall containing a sliding glass door. Both the glass door and the windows were sealed and covered with insulated blinds for the duration of the test. Before he began running his tests each day, Jim waited until the late morning when his house’s temperature was stable and turned off his home’s heating system for the duration of each test.
In each test space, we looked at the following:
- Initial room temperature: This was necessary for us to accurately gauge the rest of the tests we were running. Starting temperatures, depending on the day, ranged between 70 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heating rate: How much could each heater, when run at its highest setting, raise the temperature of our test areas after a 20-minute period and after 1 hour?
- Temperature maintenance: We tested how well each heater maintained the temperatures of our test areas over a 2-hour period.
- Heating consistency: We checked the temperature in each corner of our test areas to measure how evenly each heater warmed the rooms after running for 20 minutes.
- Minimum and maximum heat setting: We checked to see the minimum and maximum level of heating each piece of hardware was capable of providing.
- Maximum surface temperature: How hot each heater got after operating for 20 minutes.
- Humidity tests: Heaters have a reputation for drying out air. We measured the initial humidity levels in our tests areas, then noted the change after 80 minutes of operation. (Spoiler alert: The findings were pretty consistent from model to model. We only saw a 3-5 percent drop in humidity with each heater after 80 minutes running. If you need to prevent that, check out our humidifier guide.)
- Decibel level: We measured how loud each heater was from a distance of 6 feet away.
- Operating costs: We calculated the energy cost for using each heater if it were on for 8 hours a day for 30 days at $0.12 per kWh (based on the average US price of electricity per a 2011 study by the Energy Information Administration).
In addition to all of the number-driven data we were after, we also looked at subjective issues surrounding the hardware—what kind of heating technology is used, cord length, whether the heaters have digital or analog controls, the presence of a timer, thermostat accuracy, safety features, size, weight, and build quality. We considered convenience features (like a carry handle or wheels, and if it was a pain to set up or if it could be used right out of the box). This qualitative data, combined with the quantitative test results, revealed the clear favorites.
The new competition
There are a ton of cheap portable heaters out there, but they’re all, by and large, crap. I was hoping that the Impress hardware we looked at and a couple of the Lasko units would prove worthwhile this year, but sadly, I was mistaken.
The fan-forced ceramic 8.9 by 9.6 by 5.3-inch Impress 1500-Watt Space Heater and 8.34 by 6.55 by 11.66-inch Lasko 5409 heaters overheated and shut down during our timed 20-minute heat test. The good news is the overheat switch built into both pieces of hardware work like a charm, keeping us from turning them back on until they had cooled down. The bad news is that if they can’t run for 20 minutes in a controlled environment without running into trouble, you really don’t want them in your house. For the sake of Jim’s safety and for that of anyone else out there who trusts our guides, we disqualified them from the competition and immediately ceased testing.
We also called in the DeLonghi EW7707CB Safeheat 1500W ComforTemp Portable Oil-Filled Radiator, but weren’t impressed. It measures 13.8 by 25 by 10.8 inches in size and weighs 24.2 pounds. The EW7707CB’s Achilles heel is that it has no timer. On a heater that heats up instantly, this might not be a big deal. But given the roughly hour-long lead-up you need to get an oil-filled radiator up to temperature, a timer is almost a must in order to ensure that it’s warmed the area you’ve set it up in when you return home to work or before you wake up in the morning.
The Lasko 5624 Low Profile Silent Room Heater was the only piece of hardware to best our radiator pick’s monthly usage cost. It costs $20 less than the Delonghi and operates for a buck less per month. But we dislike it because its heat is quick to dissipate once turned off and, due to its low profile and large 39.75 by 5.5 by 9-inch footprint, Jim feels that it poses a tripping hazard.
We tested the Dyson AM05. It’s a tower heater that weighs weighs 6 pounds and measures 8.5 by 6.7 by 25.2 inches in size. The Dyson boasts an monthly energy cost that’s $3 lower than our Delonghi radiator pick, a remote control, a low decibel output for a fan-forced ceramic heater, and the ability do double duty as an oscillating fan in the summer. But it was beaten by the Lasko 745200 in our 20-minute heating test, only managing to increase our test area’s temperature by 3.1 degrees to the Lasko’s 7.4 degree increase. The Dyson’s long game was a little better: It increased the temperature of our test area by about 2 degrees more than either of our main picks. But given that it costs $343, the Dyson’s lackluster performance is embarrassing. You could buy three of our Delonghi radiator picks for that price—or 13 Lasko 745200s—and still have enough left over to go see a movie with a friend. This might also be a good time to mention that in April of 2014, Dyson was forced to recall the heater due to 82 of them short circuiting. If you own one and haven’t done so, stop using it right away and send it back to Dyson for a free repair.
The $153 Vornado TVH500 Whole Room Vortex Heater is a ceramic plate heater that comes with a 5-year warranty, easy-to-use digital controls, and a 9-hour timer. It’s 9.4 by 11.4 by 11.6 inches in size and weighs close to 9 pounds. Consumer Reports gave it a score of 86 points out of a possible 100. But when Jim tested it he found that it was only capable of raising our test space’s temperature by 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit after 20 minutes of operation. With its 7.4-degree heat increase, our $25 Lasko pick blew the TVH500 out of the water. And as the Lasko costs $128 less, we can live with it having 2 year’s shorter warranty coverage than the TVH500 does.
Based on how well our current Lasko heater pick has performed in testing over the past two years, Jim and I had high hopes for the Lasko 751320 Ceramic Tower Heater with Remote Control. Priced at just under $50, the 751320 measures 8.5 by 7.25 by 23 inches in size, weighs about 7 pounds, and comes with a remote control so you can turn it on or off without getting off your rump. It also has a 7-hour programmable timer and can oscillate to help ensure more-even heat distribution. Sadly, it was unable to best our $25 Lasko small room pick in our 20-minute heating test, and over time, proved to have a what Jim described as a “lousy thermostat.” This made the heater unreliable for maintaining a consistent temperature. What’s more, its thermostat could only be dialed up or down in 5-degree intervals. Not exactly what I’d call ideal.
Heaters we dismissed in the past
We’ve tested a lot of heaters over the past 3 years. A large number of them didn’t make the grade.
I looked at the 600/1,200-watt Crane EE-6353 ceramic heater. It costs $70, is only 20 inches tall, comes with a remote control, oscillates, and has a built-in shutdown timer. That said, it’s more expensive to operate than the more-powerful 1,500-watt TRD0715T, and I found it to be kind of top-heavy, making it easy to knock over. Even with a tip-over switch, that’s a dealbreaker for me.
The 1,500-watt DeLonghi DCH1030 Safeheat was a lot more stable than the Crane EE-6353 and sells for $35. But unlike the Crane, the Safeheat DCH1030 doesn’t oscillate. Plus, it costs $81 per month to operate, which is close to $50 more per month than this year’s picks will cost you. That’s insane.
I also tested the Sunpentown SH-1507 Mini Tower Heater, a Holmes HFHVP3, and Crane’s EE-6490 Space Heater. They all had hotter surface temperatures, took longer to heat the room, and were less energy-efficient than our large room pick was.
The $50 Optimus H-6010 Portable Oil-Filled Radiator Heater was the only radiator-style heater I tested in the original version of this guide that had a cooler surface temperature than the TRD0715T Safeheat. It weighed 4 pounds less too. Unfortunately, despite being $35 dollars cheaper to buy initially, the Optimus wasn’t able to raise the temperature of the room as quickly as the Safeheat did, and at $52 a month to operate, it’s not as good a deal as the DeLonghi radiator in the long run.
We also looked at the $55 Lasko 755320 ceramic tower heater. It came equipped with digital controls, which is cool, but there’s no battery in the heater, so every time you unplug it you have to reprogram all of your settings. Not cool. What’s more, it wasn’t capable of increasing the temperature of our test area as quickly as the 754200 did.
The $130 Vornado iControl proved to be pretty quiet for a fan-forced ceramic heater, producing only 38 decibels of sound. It also had a relatively cool surface temperature of 93.9 degrees Fahrenheit. But it was only able to raise the temperature of our test area by 8.2 degrees in a 1-hour period. Given that our small area heating pick was able to best this at close to a fifth of the cost, I took it out of the running. It was, however, the most efficient heater we tested, with a monthly energy usage of $31, which is $6 less per month than the 754200, but that’s only if you’re running it 8 hours a day. It’s gonna be a while before you recoup the $100 upfront price difference in energy saved.
We weren’t impressed by the Lasko 6462 either. It was well-liked by the folks at Consumer Reports and is unique in the fact that it can oscillate a full 360 degrees, so you can set it up in a room and have it blow heat in every direction, if that sounds useful to you. Jim found that its thermometer was inaccurate and often provided higher readings that went against what his handheld testing equipment was telling him. And while its fan was capable of moving a lot of air, it still didn’t manage to heat the room up as fast as our main ceramic pick, the Lasko 754200. It also costs $35 more. Pass.
The SoleusAir HGW-308R is a mica panel heater3 that costs $90, looks promising on paper, and has great performance: It’s silent, provides almost instant heat, and generated a respectable 19.6-degree-Fahrenheit change in our test area in one hour’s time. But Jim found that its poorly-designed wheels and wall-mounting system were a frustration and believed the latter could potentially pose a fire hazard for users.
The Vornado AVH2 is a ceramic plate heater that costs around $80. Like the Lasko 754200, it comes with analog heat controls, a fan for pumping out heat (or moving around the cool in the summer), a handle and an overheat switch. Unlike the Lasko, it also comes packing an anti-freeze setting, so you can set it up in your house or cottage near your pipes and it’ll heat the room up every time the temperature drops low enough that there’s a risk of the pipes freezing. But that’s not reason enough to pay $63 more than you would for the Lasko hardware. (Unless you’re terrified of burst pipes, I guess. But why not just leave the $25 Lasko heater on low in your home instead?) What’s more, Jim found that the 754200 outperformed the Vornado AVH2 with a lower monthly usage cost ($33 per month versus $39), a higher hourly heating rate (the Lasko heated our test area by 14.7 degrees in an hour while the Vornado only managed 10.7 degree increase), and finally a cooler surface temperature.
The $70 DeLonghi TRN0812T is an oil-filled radiator that’s small enough to use in a bathroom or other cramped space. And it comes equipped with a GFCI-rated electrical plug, a rare safety feature to find in a space heater. Amazon users seem to like it well enough—it earned a 3.5-star average rating from the 274 people who bothered to write in and talk about it. But we think you’d be crazy to buy this thing. Jim found that the radiator’s peak surface temperature hit higher than 262 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot enough to burn anyone who accidentally touches it and poses a significant ignition risk to flammable materials in its vicinity. No like. Additionally, at 16.8 pounds, the TRN0812T might be as light as a feather in comparison to the 25-pound Safeheat, but it’s still pretty heavy. That it doesn’t come on wheels or with a handle might make it difficult to move for some people, especially if it’s been running for a while. Who wants to grab something that hot?
We also tested the DeLonghi TRD40615E, a $135 oil-filled radiator with digital controls that the company released earlier last year. It’s around the same size and weight as the our favorite oil-filled radiator, the DeLonghi TRD0715T Safeheat, and it comes with digital controls. But it costs 5 more bucks a month to run and couldn’t heat the room up as fast as our pick could (in last year’s tests, the TRD40615E pushed the thermometer up by 4.2 degrees to our pick’s 6.6 degrees). A 2-degree difference might not be a huge if we were talking about ceramic heaters, which are designed to throw out heat almost instantly, but for hardware that already heats up slow to begin with, a 2-degree variance is a big deal. Add to this the fact that the new DeLonghi hardware’s digital controls have to be reprogrammed every time you decide to unplug it and you’ll see why we feel that the less-expensive, time-tested Safeheat is a better deal.
Notes on heater prices and availability
We do everything we can to sniff out the best prices for you, no matter where they might be found, for everything we recommend at The Sweethome and The Wirecutter. The same goes for availability. But over the past couple of years, heaters have proven to be a problem. The prices and availability on these things fluctuate wildly over the colder months of the year.
During the polar vortex last winter, we saw the cost of our $25 Lasko pick double almost overnight at a number of outlets–and that’s only if we could even find them in stock. Most places, Amazon included, didn’t have any models of our Lasko pick available until early spring. So if you think you might need a heater this winter don’t wait for the cold weather to hit. Buy one early—honestly, the sooner the better.
A word on safety
Space heaters caused more than 20,000 fires in the US between 2005 and 2009, according to a 2011 report by the National Fire Protection Association. So how do you keep safe?
We asked former Fire Advisor to the Office of the Fire Commissioner for British Columbia’s Vancouver Island Region, Gary McCall, who spent 30 years as a firefighter and fire chief. McCall said the first step to safely using any portable heater is to buy one that’s certified by either the CSA or the ULC (or just plain old UL in the United States).
All of the hardware we tested complied with at least one of these safety standards. In addition to this, it’s important to read the heater’s manual for any hardware-specific warnings and to keep combustibles at least 3 feet away from a heater. Keep yourself at least 3 feet away, too. Space heaters are designed to supplement the home’s main heating system—not to be a primary heat source—so you ideally won’t have to crowd in too close to the device.
There’s also a big rule that many people don’t know: “A lot of manufacturers will tell you flat out that you shouldn’t be using the heater with an extension cord,” McCall said. If you absolutely must use one, make sure the cord’s length and gauge are rated for the electrical demands of a heater. Set it up so it’s not a tripping hazard, and don’t run it under a carpet or overhead.
Wrapping it up
After over 60 hours of research and a series of tests performed by a PhD physicist, we have two strong options for keeping your home a little warmer this winter. Use the Lasko 754200 if you want a compact, quick, portable item to heat a small area, and the DeLonghi TRD0715T Safeheat 1500W Portable Oil-Filled Radiator for larger spaces, rooms you want to heat for hours at a time, or any space that could benefit from a silent heating source. And if you can’t find our picks, then the $130 Vornado ATH1 Whole Room Tower Heater and the $80 Delonghi EW7507EB Radiator, for small and larger areas respectively, both proved to be excellent backup plans until warm weather returns.
Space Heaters (Subscription Required), Consumer Reports
Space Heater Reviews, Good Housekeeping
The Best Space Heaters, This Old House
Home Fires Involving Heating Equipment, National Fire Protection Association,According to a 2013 report from the National Fire Protection Association, between 2007 and 2011, most home heating fire deaths (81%) and injuries (70%) and half (51%) of associated direct property damage involved stationary or portable space heaters. So how do you keep safe?
Originally published: November 9, 2014